The power of antecedents and the therapeutic impact of nosework, from the Lemonade Conference presenter Peta Clarke!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Peta Clarke.
Peta lives and breaths the animals she works with. With over twenty years' experience working as a professional animal trainer in a variety of settings, both in Australia and America, she has engulfed herself during that time in the practical and theoretical application of reinforcement training in the training and care of literally thousands of animals. While Peta's first love is working with dogs, her experiences in the field of animal training range from elephants to goldfish. As a trainer and presenter of animal shows in zoos on several continents, she has had the opportunity to work with many exotic animals, but her focused work in this area is working with free-flighted birds and marine mammals.
In addition to a career as an exotic animal trainer, Peta also works extensively in the film and theatre industry. Her credits include Babe II, Superman Returns, Wolverine, Hacksaw Ridge, The Square, Top End Wedding, The Invisible Man, and many other local films and literally hundreds of television commercials.
Peta Clarke is a nationally accredited trainer, holding her Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and is a sought-after lecturer in Australia, teaching Certificate-level animal training and behavior courses for aspiring animal trainers, and an invited lecturer for many dog training clubs, zoos, and other private organizations.
Hi Peta, welcome to the podcast!
Peta Clark: Hello, Melissa, thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to talk. To start us out, do you want to tell us a bit about the animals you currently share your life with, and anything you're working on with them?
Peta Clarke: It's so funny, because I started off this life, my love for dogs, as a big-dog person. I always find that I have to say that before I say currently I'm living with two Chihuahuas, a Brussels Griffon, a thing that came from Alice Springs, we don't know what it is, but it looks like a shaggy Shih Tzu kind of thing, and a 11-year-old British Bulldog. There's a cat in there as well, and a couple of parrots that have come along the way, but it definitely is a menagerie, and for people like us a dream.
Melissa Breau: Quite a few furry critters and feathered critters.
Peta Clark: Indeed.
Melissa Breau: How did you originally get into training and behavior?
Peta Clarke: It's a story that I do enjoy telling now, but initially I think when people hear it, it does become a bit of an affront. The situation was that I was going to university, so your college, and very much I've always been interested in behavior, so I was studying to become a clinical psychologist.
In my third year I was attacked and raped, and that led me down a path that was obviously not what anybody expects, but a path of three years of agoraphobia, of having to stay at home, just absolutely terrified of the world at large. The shrink, or the psychiatrist I guess is the correct term to use, that I was seeing at the time was a smart lady, and she said to Mum eventually, "We've tried so many things, and we haven't been able to start to get her motivated to get out and overcome this fear."
They ended up working out that I really, really had a thing for Boxer dogs, but we didn't have one at the time. So they brought me home a baby puppy called Russell Clarke, and at 8 weeks of age he was my entry or re-entry back into the world.
At that particular moment — we're talking thirty years ago, Melissa, so it's a while — but we knew at least then that we had to get them out and about, we had to socialize them, we had to do all of that stuff to give them the right start, and so subsequently I had a reason to get out and face those fears that wasn't about me, but it was about another being.
I think so often that's the thing that happens with us as animal trainers, and especially when we're in the area of positive reinforcement and wanting to make it better and easier and more ethical and all that for our animals, it's so much all about them, how can we help them.
So here we are, thirty years later, and I know a lot of people will jar at that, but I think it's a really important question to answer honestly, because what we have been through as trainers, and definitely how we got into this in the first place — I never thought about working with animals when I was going through high school. Never. I wasn't one of those teenagers who had posters of Labrador puppies or of horses with flying manes on their walls or anything like that. So it has been an amazing adventure that I didn't expect, initially brought to me by this beautiful Boxer puppy who basically saved my life. So that's my start.
Melissa Breau: I'm sorry you had to go through all that to end up in the industry, but I'm certainly glad you ended up here.
Peta Clarke: I'm glad too, all these years later. So often we find that when we go through stuff like that — and we all do, to a greater or lesser degree. That's the point. I'm not unique. I'm not anything special. Unfortunately we all go through trauma.
Life is a bumpy road, but I think every single one of us listening and who are on this journey would acknowledge that we're in a situation where when we have those situations personally, the empathy that we have for our learners just increases and increases because we can understand. It might not be exactly what they're feeling, exactly what they're going through, but we have empathy that is based on first-hand experience that we otherwise wouldn't have.
Melissa Breau: Thinking about that, thirty years ago, were you into positive training back then? If not, what got you started down that path?
Peta Clarke: It was so funny actually, now that I think about it, all these memories coming back. I got this puppy, and one of the things that I knew I had to do was take this puppy out and about, and one of the criteria that came with, "Here's this puppy and you've got responsibility now, and here we've got you a pass to a four-week course, puppy training classes at this local dog trainer."
It was at her house and it was a her; they'd done all the right things. I even remember then having to go and having my mum and my boyfriend at the time, or my aunt, sit on each side so that no one sat next to me that I didn't know, so that I was comfortable enough.
But in moving in that direction, the instructor, the trainer at that time, could tell that I was really interested. It's one of those things, it's obviously when we're interested. We're like, "Hello, say something else so I can learn," when we get bitten by this bug. It was interesting because she'd had a long history, I think going up five to ten years, of traditional training just in obedience competition and helping pet dogs and that kind of stuff.
She said to me one night after class, "There's this new way called positive reinforcement training. Would you be interested in learning about that?" I had some understanding of what she was talking about, obviously, because I had trained formally to some degree, even though I left uni after the rape and never acquired my degree and all that kind of stuff. It was like, "Yeah, I know a bit about that."
It was one of those coincidental things where she came and she had this dog knowledge and information, and I was like, "Hang on, let me get my textbooks out," that were never as valuable then as they are now. Now it's like we covet these textbooks. I got them out, and I had always done well at university, but suddenly it started to come alive.
So I've never traditionally trained in the sense of the word, focusing on punishment and aversion and that kind of stuff, but I love the question, because looking back, the easy answer is, yes, I've always been a positive reinforcement trainer, but looking back, my understanding of what a positive reinforcement trainer is today, if I look back and use that yardstick to judge myself, I wasn't a positive reinforcement trainer because I didn't know enough. I didn't understand.
I still had, like we all do, and even today, every single one of us, no matter how invested we are in making this world a better place for our learners, are still humans first and foremost, and that means that we're going to grumble and yell at our dogs every now and again. I'm sorry, but that's the truth, and we all have to band together and say, "Yes, sometimes we slip up." We all grumble at our spouses, we all grumble at our families.
But I think the point is, when you're on this journey, you realize when your emotions have taken over and you're reacting in a way that is about you and not about the learner. More and more I'm able to control myself and think, and just naturally it's so great.
We talk about this journey as if, "Yes, I've helped all these animals," and blah blah blah. I would be nothing without this journey. The person that I am now and the way that I deal with not only my dogs or my elephants or my birds, but other people — I deal with other people so much better. And you know what? I deal with myself well. I'm kinder to myself.
So looking back, I've never stuck a chain on a dog or anything like that in the name of training, but certainly I was not using the tools as effectively as I am now. And I hope that if we talk in ten years, I can say the same: "When we talked ten years ago, I wasn't as effective." So it's a journey.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To dig into that just a little bit more, how would you describe your training philosophy now or where you're at today?
Peta Clarke: Very much so many of us are so appreciative to teachers. We all learn from one another. Susan Friedman definitely is a big influence on so many of us, and I always have in my head, if someone asks me who is not cognizant or aware of the positive reinforcement movement, I say, "I want to train as ethically and as effectively as possible," and that's a term that comes from Susan.
Especially nowadays, because the whole term "positive reinforcement training" is out there and everybody knows about it. I was going to say there's such a high level of understanding just in general, but that's not true. There's people who have bad associations and negative associations with that term, so I don't want to bring them out, and there's people who think they know what it means, but they don't know what it means.
And moving along on our desire to always communicate as clearly as possible, we know that the best thing that we can do when we're looking at behavior is to describe it rather than label it, so I find that because I focused on that so hard and tried to better myself in that way, I find that when I'm talking to people, I try, and even if it's not about behavior … well, I guess it is about behavior, because it's about my behavior and they say, "How do you train?"
Saying I'm a positive reinforcement trainer doesn't give them any information, but if I start to say, "ethically and effective," it's a narrower field so that they can start to understand a little bit more the approach that I take.
Melissa Breau: In some ways, as the phrase "positive training" has become more well known as a label, I guess in some ways it has also watered down the meaning.
Peta Clarke: Oh yeah, a hundred percent. And again, everybody has a different interpretation, so until we can identify "That's what we mean by this," and I think that term "positive reinforcement training/trainer" has just gone so far that I try not to call myself that, I try not to refer to myself on my website or anything like that, because some people would come in and see that and go, "Oh, she's a food trainer, that will be no good for my dog," kind of thing. So it's a journey in learning.
But "ethically and effective," I really like that because effective, that's what we want to do, and especially in the dog training world, it's as quickly as possible. Most people want to get in and get out, so they like that. And ethically they'd rather buy eggs laid by chickens that are waddling around eating worms than in a battery situation, so they have that understanding as well. So I think it helps.
Melissa Breau: I like that. We're lucky enough to have you joining us as a presenter for the upcoming Lemonade Conference, where you're presenting for us twice. I want to talk about the first talk first. Your first talk is on antecedents. In your description, you wrote that functional analysis, or ABC analysis, is one of those things that can kind of hurt your head initially. I'd love to unpack that a bit. First, for anybody who is not even familiar with the terminology here, can you explain what you mean by a functional or an ABC analysis?
Peta Clarke: Yes, yes, I'll do my best, because I'm not an academic. I'm a dog trainer, an animal trainer, first and foremost, and my understanding of functional analysis or ABC analysis is just a reminder or a way to look at behavior.
I think when we have a problem behavior definitely in front of us, or we want to move behavior and train our dog to do something, we obviously focus on the behavior because that's what we want to modify in some way. One of the things that was such a great "Ah" moment for me — and I'm looking up because I'm trying to remember when it happened, but I can't for the life of me — but it was that moment where someone said — it was probably Ramirez or Friedman or someone like that — said we're training and we want to modify behavior, but we can't influence behavior directly. We can't get into that. The only way that we influence behavior is by changing these things we call consequences over here, all the stuff that happens after the behavior in time and space. And then we've got the situation over here, where there's always stuff going on and present before the behavior happens, and we call them antecedents. The only way we can get into that behavior and move it in some way, influence it, is by modifying these things.
It's the simplest thing, but it was like, oh my gosh, of course. So the first thing now I always help people to try and understand. I don't care about the terminology. That's for the academics. I like the word antecedent because it leads us to the ABCs. But I tell you, it took me years to work out how to say it properly and comfortably in public, let alone spell it. You know when you've got one of those whiteboards up there and now you have to spell in front of people? It's like, oh my gosh.
But it just helps us understand that there's never just behavior in this amazing world of ours, that there's the stuff that's going on before that's influencing the behavior in some way, that's the antecedents, and there's the stuff, the consequences, which pretty much that's where we focus when we start wanting to learn more about positive reinforcement training. We look at these and we go, "If we want to influence behavior, behavior is controlled by its consequences," so we learn about rate of reinforcement.
Reinforcement is what the animal tells you. It is not what you think it is. So you start to realize that that bit of cheese or chicken that you're getting out of your pouch might not be cutting it in the real world, and you learn, "What do you want? What do you mean, you want to chase the rabbits? How do I do that?" And off we go.
But understanding that there's a whole other side to these antecedents, definitely over the past probably five to ten years, has really increased my understanding, again, of how to work with behavior and move it in the way that we want it to go. But also the fact that when we focus on our consequences, the behavior that those consequences influence is behavior in the future. It's not going to influence the behavior here and now.
As I think back and realize why have you become so focused on these antecedents, I generally teach, I want to talk about and share with people what I'm generally focused on at that point in time. So the topic of antecedents, when I was originally coming to Boston for the talk and they said, "What do you want to talk about?" Antecedents, because I need to learn about antecedents more, so I know if I've got to put together a package, then that's what I'm going to be focused on and thinking about more and more. That's the way it works for me.
So yes, the importance of just if we can only get people to stand back just a little bit and not pinpoint themselves and blinker themselves on the behavior, but what's happening in the environment that is causing this behavior, and what's happening out here after it that might move it in a direction in the future in the same situation, then that's a huge step.
And again, the consequences can affect future behavior, but if I'm here and now, what can I do to help this animal feel more comfortable to behave in the way that I want it to behave. All we've got right here, right now, is how do I change these antecedents, how do I change the picture. That was a moment, and continues to be moments, for me because it's happening all the time.
I know, I go on, don't I? Long story.
Melissa Breau: I think you addressed what I was going to ask you next, which was why the focus on antecedents in particular for the talk?
Peta Clarke: Right, right.
Melissa Breau: Can you just share an example or two of the power that antecedents can have when they're properly understood and used strategically in training?
Peta Clarke: The thought that comes to me so, so, so early on in my career, when I'd first gone across to Steve Martin's Natural Encounters and was doing some work with him, learning about free-flight bird training, was I was working a Toucan. All I was doing, all I had to do, the simplest thing, was to get it had gone and done its performance in the show, and I needed to get it back on my hand, feed it a grape, and put it into its crate.
As I was waiting there, I realized that there was a little statue by its crate that was not normally there, and I thought to myself, That's going to freak this bird out. I will just move it there over to here, and everything was fine. And, Melissa, I couldn't have told you back then that what I did an antecedent arrangement, change the antecedent arrangement to get the behavior more likely to … I just moved the statue.
And the thing is, without going and learning and delving into, "Oh, there's actually a science about this and they call it this," it's so easy for us as humans to say … for me to tell that story and for me, if I'm that way inclined, or for other people to say, "Oh, Peta's just so intuitive. She's got so much skill. If only we could all be like her." And it's like, you can be. It's just that anyone would have seen that great big statue and moved it, knowing the sensitive nature of these birds.
But then we can go to the science and say, "Oh, OK, that's about antecedent control and that's what it's called." I think that the great thing about antecedents is that when we talk about the fact that there's not just behavior, there's these consequences going on that we're all pretty good at — we're getting better at it, each year we get better at it — but there's also these antecedents. The consequences only affect future behavior. They don't affect behavior right here and now.
If I walk into a situation and I've got a behavior problem and I don't have a reinforcement history with the animal, or the animal doesn't have a reinforcement history in this particular context or with me, the only thing I've got to influence behavior right there and then is manipulation of the environment, the antecedents, the stimuli that are present that to some degree are influencing that problem behavior. And so they are incredibly powerful in a way that consequences can't be for us. Consequences will move future behavior in that same environment, but they're not going to help us right here right now, because they are for the next time and the next time.
In my talk I've got some great examples of situations where I've been on set, and the funny thing about working animals in film is that when you get a call, "We've got this film and we need a dog," they always are saying to you, "The dog just needs to do this, the dog just needs to do a sit-stay, the dog just needs to bark on command, the dog just needs to …" and it's like, great, I've got dogs that can do that that fit the bill, but what else is going on while the dog is doing that?
And seriously, we've learnt that you can never ask enough questions, and you will never ask all the questions you need to ask. It's to the point where it's like you're changing the color of the sky for this scene because that might impact on that dog doing the behavior, but because everybody thinks and subsequently they say, "You've got two weeks training for this cat to do this," and you go, "Yes, fantastic," and when you get to the set they say, "Just put the cat in there and will it do it? Because it's trained, right?" And you're like, "Yes, but do you see that man in a hairy ape suit? I didn't know that that was going to be, so the cat might take a bit of time to get used to the man in the hairy ape suit, because I forgot to ask if there was a man in a hairy ape suit."
So I think, again, as in my work — both the film work and nosework, which is the other great topic I get to talk about — so often I've been forced to think about antecedents, because consequences aren't going to start to impact on the behavior until the next time and the next time and the next time.
Melissa Breau: Until the dog or the animal has already done a behavior.
Peta Clarke: That's right. At least once, yes.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned the nosework. That is what your second presentation is on, and I want to talk about that too. You're talking about how and why nosework classes can be therapeutic for dogs. Tell me just a little bit about that. What impacts have you seen nosework have?
Peta Clarke: So much, and like so many other people out there, we've all got these amazing stories about giving dogs the opportunity to use their nose in a safe environment, blah blah blah.
What really influenced me to want to start talking and sharing my thoughts … so often these talks, it's like we think, I'm listening to so-and-so and they're the expert, and all the people who have just got their ear in are the learners. And more and more the playing field is leveling out because every single person out there listening would have something to share about that topic as well. I specifically say that in this area of therapeutic nosework because it's so new in the dog world, and it's so new to start thinking of it in this way.
So I really started to question the therapeutic value of nosework as a broad arching statement when I started doing workshops around the place, and so subsequently around Australia. I'd travel around and give these workshops on specifically the canine nosework methodology of approach to nosework, and I'd see dogs that had done nosework for a while and had gone in, and different methods, just like in America and all around the world, some ways make more sense than other ways to people, so we all have put our color on it.
But I started to see dogs who had done nosework for, like, eighteen months and they were still terrified. I was like, Why hasn't the positive impact of the therapeutic value happened with this dog, as opposed to some other dogs that I've seen, and why can I get this dog into this situation and see it improve dramatically? What am I doing that maybe someone else isn't doing? Not to say I'm better than them, but what's going on here? What's the difference?
Because that's our measure. We have to understand specifically what is ... the devil is in the details. What specifically is important about a nosework class if you want to get the therapy aspect out of it. I would hear people saying, "Nosework is so good for dogs," and it's so good, and it's so this, and I would be able to think through my experience, Well, I see that many times, but sometimes I don't, so what's the difference?
And that's behavior. That is behavior. We need to forever strip away, strip away, strip away, so that we can get to the finer detail in every aspect, both the behavior and we know that. We know if we want to move the behavior in a certain way, we're better off to split than to lump, so that we get strong behavior built on strong behavior built on strong behavior. Thank you, Bob Bailey.
We know with the consequences it's not just giving a bit of chicken. It's how you give that chicken. Do you throw the chicken? Do you hand the chicken? Do you place the chicken? Where do you place the chicken? All of those sorts of things.
So that's what I wanted to do with nosework. I wanted to go out there and say, "What is it about nosework that is therapeutic?" So that when people specifically come along and want/need to get the therapy aspect out of it, not just have it as a side effect to a lesser degree, what is it that we need to do as instructors, or we should be focusing on as instructors, if that's the point of the exercise, as opposed to teaching a dog to go and sniff out birch or winnow-middle or whatever it happens to be.
And funnily enough — it's not really that funny I guess — but so much of the area of what we need to be doing and focusing on is in the area of antecedent control.
Melissa Breau: Imagine that! You also mention in the description that it's super-important that nosework instructors be very good at reading the animal, and like you said, modifying those antecedents and consequences to build confidence. I want to have you break that down just a little bit more. Can you talk a little more about what that looks like, and why being able to read the animal is such an important piece?
Peta Clark: A hundred percent. For me, when we're training an animal, whether it's in the area of I guess what we would call more behavior modification — we generally use that term when we're talking about improving problem behaviors as opposed to training them — it's all the same. We know that. We focus on the behavior.
Our job is to go in there and manipulate consequences and antecedents to move the behavior, but the question always is, How do I manipulate consequences and antecedents to move the behavior? Do I just go in there and throw spaghetti on the wall and see if it's cooked? What's the information? Where do I get my information about what changes I need to make? That we get the information from the behavior of the animal. We watch that animal and we watch aspects of the behavior, like where are you orientating, how are you orientating, how quickly are you orientating?
All of that information comes from the animal's behavior, and it is that behavior that tells us first and foremost what the animal needs/wants in that environment. And I say "needs" because so often we forget, especially in the area of nosework, if we go to a workshop or a class, that first time that that dog is in that environment, even if it's a dog that's the typical happy-go-lucky Lab that "Nothing worries me," that animal still needs to ascertain its safety before it can go, "What, there's chicken?" and go and hunt for the chook or the chicken or the tennis ball.
That may be as simple as looking around with a great big Labrador smiley grin on its face, or it might be as intense as taking ten minutes off lead to go and sniff around the environment and realize that there's no boogeyman in the corner. But you get the information from that behavior.
So observing behavior, definitely to the finite degree, for me, is all animal training: what are you telling the animal, how do you want me to manipulate the environment and the consequences next, based on the information that you're giving me from your behavior.
In nosework, and definitely when we're talking about the dogs that need the therapy of nosework, it is about saying, "I've set up the environment so it's safe and secure for you. Now things are going to happen here, but it's no good me telling you. You need to work that out yourself. So let me take the lead off, and you do what you need to do."
That doing might be sitting by the owner, shaking. That's behavior. That's information. Or that doing might be running around like a slobbery git, nervously. So many people would say, "Oh look, he's so happy to be here." But in actual fact you can say, "No, I think he's a little bit nervous about this, and he's just one of those people at a party who's socially inappropriate because they're nervous."
And so that behavior then tells me what do I need to do? Do I need to get Mum to move around with you so you can have a sniff around? All of that kind of stuff. Just so, so great, and you never stop getting better at reading behavior and interpreting it, in my experience. I say to people, "I thought I was really good with dogs. I thought I was great. And then I started nosework classes and I realized just how much I was missing in what they were telling me about the internal state and what they needed from me." That old saying, "What the student is ready, the teacher will appear," and nosework and nosework for therapy has been such a teacher for me in that area of reading behavior and understanding what I need to change in order to make that animal feel a little bit more comfortable.
Melissa Breau: I've got three questions I usually ask at the end of the interview whenever I have somebody new on, so I want to dive into those as we approach the end here. The first one is what is the training-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?
Peta Clarke: What's going through my head is several dogs or animals — but I think it's dogs and I think I've pinpointed it — that interestingly enough I've helped not build amazing trick behavior on, but I've built amazing confidence in. One of the dogs — we're going way, way back now — was a dog called Princess, she'd be long dead now, and I met her when we did Babe: Pig In The City.
When we did Babe: Pig In The City, when I was just a wee youngster, we had five Dobermans to play the lead role: the handsome one for the close-ups, the fast, athletic one for the running scenes, and all of that kind of stuff. One of the ones we had was a Doberman called Princess, and she was acquired by the production because she was no longer wanted. She came from a puppy farm and she was a breed bitch that had just basically … I can't remember how old she was, but she may have been 3 or 4. She just had litter after litter after litter, and she'd never been out of her 8-foot-by-5-foot pen, and all that kind of stuff, so subsequently she was incredibly nervous of her environment.
She had never been on a lead before, so putting her on a lead I remember —and I would do it very differently now — but I remember putting her on that lead and saying, "I'm just going to take you out and you're going to get used to it," and her getting so frantic with fear because she was suddenly held captive — I guess is the way to say it from her point of view — around her neck. She couldn't go anywhere because she was on this 6-foot lead that she started to spin around, spin around, spin around to try and get free.
I was just standing there, holding the lead, and I was like, "You'll be all right," because remember I had, like every single one of us, I had other trainers watching me at the time, and I was a youngster and they weren't positive reinforcement trainers. They had a lot of history of a lot of aversive training working for them and all that kind of stuff.
She was pissing and crapping, she was so scared. Anyway, long story short, she couldn't learn. She'd never really done it before, and she'd never learnt, she'd just had babies, and so teaching her to lie down and to sit was just … anyway, I kept on going and kept on going, and in the end I remember there was a scene that we were shooting that was a night scene.
The other Doberman trainers and their Dobermans had gone and had this practical session with this bit of equipment on set. Basically, the scene was the Doberman and the Bull Terrier were to run out in-between this picket fence. In the film it had to look like the chain they were attached to, they were attached to a tether that went in the ground, both of them, it was that sort of tether that one of the dogs ran on one side and one of the dogs ran on the other side of the fence, and it had to look like that chain ripped the fence all out, but the fence was on hydraulics, so it was just as they ran past, the props guys had to hit the hydraulic thing and [noise]. It was terrifyingly loud. It was that sort of air.
The trainer who was looking after us, the American trainer, said, "Don't worry about Princess. She won't be able to do this, so we'll take the other dogs up there and get them used to it." And their getting used to it was — we're talking thirty years ago — it was, "Stay there. You will stay there. I'm going to make you more scared of me than the sound of this."
That was fine, they did that, but in-between us getting access to this hydraulic fence and the scene, I would go up there with my partner in crime Lindy Coot, and I would say, "What I want you to do is just press the button so it goes [noise] once, and I'm going to feed her some food." Because she was a guts, awesome, Princess is a guts, and I built up her comfort to the sound that way.
Come to the shoot night, it was a night shoot, like I said, so we were very much bordered by sunset and sunrise. It was the first scene that we were shooting on that night, and when it came to half past 5, quarter to 6 in the morning, when they still hadn't got it, Karl came up to me and said — he was this dear man, he's again long dead, he worked on Lassie and Rin Tin Tin movies, Karl Lewis Miller, amazing man — and he was a small man, he always used to have Brylcreem in his hair, and you could tell how stressed he was by how much his fringe had come down. And so he came up and his fringe was all down and he said, "Will Princess do this?" And I went, "Yes," because I had no idea, but I knew what I'd done.
Basically, we got the shot with that dog running through — I start to cry; it was thirty years ago, I get goosebumps — and that was all "Hydraulics equals a bit of food." Was she uncomfortable about it? A hundred percent. I'm not going to tell you that she ran through that like it was a daisy field. She was like, "Oh crap, I don't like it, but there's sausage on the other side," and off she went. That just showed me from a dog that was terrified of everything to a dog that would go, "I'm uncomfortable with it, but I can do it."
And yes, I would do it differently now and all that kind of stuff, but it was a real moment of "Thank God I had moments like that," because they're the ones that when you think about, I'll just stick a chain on the dog, and "Come on, you'll be all right," hang on a minute. Hang on. I know that there's more to this than the behavior that I'm currently focused on.
And isn't that what we're all about? There's more to this than the behavior. Whether you're on a film set or whether you're in your own home, there is so much more to this than this particular behavior. So yeah, dear Princess. Wow, what a teacher.
Melissa Breau: What a story! The next one here on my little list … now you have to roll out a big story for each of these …
Peta Clarke: Sorry, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No, it's good! What's the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Peta Clarke: I don't know, to be honest. I'm speechless, Melissa. I don't know, because there's so much good information that's out there, and there's so many quirky, fantastic, smart people.
I think probably the best bit of training advice that I ever heard, and I've heard a million times in different ways, is you've just got to get your hands dirty and do it. You've got to get in there and do it, rather than read a million books. You've got to get in there and give it a whirl, and the only way you get better at training is to train.
I think so often we think that we have to have a reason to train, whether it's nail file or eye drops or a behavior that the dog has to take on set and perform immaculately. So often the training that I do with my dogs at home, or my animals, is me having one of my … I call them "what if" sessions. What if? I'm teaching you to go to this station. What if? What happens if I throw, in the name of reinforcement, instead of the food coming to you, I throw it to the right. How does that influence your behavior?
I remove any kind of emotional association I have with the behavior, I remove any pressure to have a goal, and I just watch those principals of learning influence behavior in the real world. So I train to be a better trainer. I don't train for an end result of "Now my dog can do this."
Melissa Breau: I like that. Last one here, which is, who is somebody else in the training world that you look up to?
Peta Clarke: I think every single one of us can run off names like Friedman and Ramirez and Pryor and all of those gorgeous people. I'm so lucky to be one of the old-schoolers, because I knew them.
Here's a fun story. When Ken Ramirez first came to Australia — however long ago that was; I have no idea — I was just started in the zoo industry, and this man was like … all these stories. We had, like, two days with him and I could not believe this man.
I went up, as I often do, "I want to learn more from you. How do I do it?" He said, "You should come and do an internship at Shedd Aquarium." I'd never worked a marine mammal in my life! "OK," I said, "OK, sir." I went and did a week at Shedd, and I stayed with Ken Ramirez at his place, and then I went on and did … I think it was the second-ever ClickerExpo. Oh my God, it was way back then. So obviously those names.
But I think we all have to recognize that you don't have to be a name to be able to teach people things, to teach others things, or I guess I'll say it this way: We should be looking in our own back yard for people to learn from, because it is there. I've got some amazing teachers out here who no one will have ever heard of, but they're the people that when I have a question, or when I need clarification, and I need a different point of view, I've only got one brain, so as long as I can find other people who have the same philosophy in training as I do, then if I can go and borrow their brain for a bit, then I'm winning, because now I've got more brain and a different way of looking at it, and that again is such an important thing. You don't know you've got your blinkers on until someone takes your blinkers off. And then you go, "Oh my Lord, I can't believe I wasn't thinking. It was so obvious."
So as much as this amazing technology and the Lemonade Conference is so obviously a great example of this, there's going to be so many grumpy animal trainers around the world because we're going to be so tired. We're going to be exhausted. Maybe we should all have this thing on Facebook: "Bear with me. It's a Lemonade stage I'm going through."
But yes, I think while there's the names, and as I said, I can rattle them off and I do rattle them off, because I would be absolutely nowhere near where I am in my understanding, especially of the science of and the application of the science in the real world, as I would be without the teaching of Susan Friedman.
But I also know that when those teachers are not available to me, then it's really important to have other people who you're close to, to bounce off, to help clarify what those big-name teachers are teaching you. Does that make sense? You really get it into your brain and your system — your soul, I guess — so that it's not just "This is how I train animals," so it's "This is how I live. This is how I want to." And I'm going to slip and I'm going to fall and there's people who are going to say, "Peta Clarke doesn't practice what she preaches," but I pick myself up and I learn from that, I apologize when I need to, and I continue on.
So yeah, big names and small names, it doesn't matter. We're all in this together, I think.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Peta!
Peta Clarke: Thank you, Melissa. Thank you. We moved around a bit. I've got the lawnmower man out the front and we had to move around a bit and Melissa was so patient. Fantastic. And I look forward hopefully to meeting at least some of the people who are listening virtually on the Lemonade Conference in … oh my gosh, twenty days or something? Oh my goodness! It's going to be great.
Melissa Breau: Don't remind me!
Peta Clarke: At the point of recording.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you again, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We will be back next week. Don't miss it!
If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!